What is Ecological Overshoot?


What is ecological overshoot and why is it important? Is it a more important predicament than climate change? What about energy and resource decline - more important than it? The answer to the latter two questions is YES and ecological overshoot is important because it is the predicament which is causing all the other (symptom) predicaments such as climate change, pollution loading, energy and resource decline, and the list of files included in this post. While one can read this peer-reviewed paper from William Rees, I found this video quite instructive and possibly more understandable to most people. Practically every article I've written here is about ecological overshoot in one way or another. Put simply, ecological overshoot is the collection of predicaments that our unsustainable lifestyles have brought forth. Collectively, humans globally use far more energy and resources than the planet can provide in a given unit of time and we produce toxic wastes that the planet cannot process within that same unit of time - that is ecological overshoot. William Rees also wrote this article which also describes ecological overshoot and offers ideas on what the future will bring.

For a complete, detailed description of ecological overshoot, nothing matches William R. Catton, Jr.'s book, "Overshoot."

Because of ecological overshoot, each predicament we face exacerbates the other ones. For instance, this article points out how agriculture and food security threaten environmental sustainability, and both amplify other predicaments such as water security, GHG emissions, aerosols, land use changes, species and biodiversity decline, and on down the list. 

This article points out how the climate system is much more sensitive than previously thought, making us much closer to tipping points; some of which have already been passed. This shouldn't surprise too many people considering how many articles are constantly laden with the "faster than expected" and "more than previously thought" phrases, but many of these types of articles tend to focus on one or two specific predicaments rather than explaining the interactions and multiplying and cascading effects these predicaments have with each other. So many people do the same thing with climate change, focusing almost exclusively on emissions reductions or making lifestyle changes such as becoming vegan or utilizing regenerative agriculture or planting trees and all of these put together still won't actually solve anything (because collectively this isn't possible and because it is the system of civilization which is the real culprit to begin with). Many people claim that it is "still better than doing nothing" while in reality, this entirely discounts the energy and resources required to accomplish such feats. 

This particular article explains how most people view climate change as the biggest predicament affecting society rather than its parent predicament, ecological overshoot, and as such points out how attempting to produce "green" energy entirely misses the issues, quote:

"We argue that while the GND narrative is highly seductive, it is little more than a disastrous shared illusion. Not only is the GND technically flawed, but it fails to recognize human ecological dysfunction as the overall driver of incipient global systemic collapse. By viewing climate change, rather than ecological overshoot—of which climate change is merely a symptom—as the central problem, the GND and its variants grasp in vain for techno-industrial solutions to problems caused by techno-industrial society. Such a self-referencing pursuit is doomed to fail. As Albert Einstein allegedly said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. We need an entirely new narrative for a successful energy transition. Only by abandoning the flawed paradigmatic source of our ecological dilemma can we formulate realistic pathways for averting social–ecological collapse."

Recently, I've seen several different posts focused on moving to a more resilient area, which many people view as being "safer" or a place where one can survive longer. There's even a Facebook group where this can be discussed extensively. I hate to say it again, but this is simply more denial of reality and optimism bias. There really is nowhere to run to escape the predicaments we face. The thought of being safer or surviving longer is a very powerful force, but ultimately this is nothing more than an illusion for the most part. Yes, there ARE places which are safer than others, relatively speaking and right now. For instance, one will most likely have better chances in locations in the US such as northern Michigan or Maine (away from the coast) than in Miami, Florida; Houston, Texas; or many locations in California (the entire western and southwestern US will suffer many of the same issues such as water security, wildfire, drought, heatwaves, etc.). Still, even a reinforced underground bunker can only insulate one from impending disaster for a limited timeframe. Sooner or later, the supplies, resources, and infrastructural integrity WILL run out regardless of where one happens to be; and more than likely, in a reinforced bunker, one will suffer from serious mental issues long before that even (similar to the types of psychological issues suffered from many people who spend time in Antarctica). 

The trouble with thinking that moving to locations which aren't CURRENTLY suffering the effects that other areas are is that millions of other people will also see this as a potential "solution" and overwhelm the existing habitat (infrastructure, food systems, housing, water supply, etc.) in those locations. The effect will look similar to an area suffering from the effects of millions of grasshoppers or billions of locusts devastating an area or region once climate migrations become commonplace as time moves forward.

Determining the ecological footprint can be useful in finding out if something is sustainable or not. This is also useful in discovering just how unsustainable our lives are, even if we work diligently to reduce the damage done by our lifestyles. It demonstrates that the average person living a Western lifestyle (such as those living in locations such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, and Australia) requires a footprint which if the whole world followed such a lifestyle, it would require at least 3 more Earths to accommodate. 

Many people tend to focus on climate change because this is one of the most visible and pressing predicaments as perceived by society. While climate change is indeed serious, we cannot forget energy and resource decline which is exacerbating the situations climate change produces. Just one aspect of climate change, heatwaves, can produce wet bulb temperatures exceeding the human capacity to deal with (without technology); and as can be seen by what has happened in the western USA over the past week or two, even WITH technology, the infrastructure which technology depends on is also affected by heatwaves, making it vulnerable to failure. One look at this file is evidence of the effects of climate change upon our systems of infrastructure

So, given what we now realize about these predicaments, what can we do? One of my friends who also served as an admin in both the Prepping for NTHE and the Methane News Group, David Fleming, provides this article regarding how the Stoics respond to the predicament of climate change. Three poignant quotes: 

"I think applying Epictetus’s advice to our global situation would mean first of all ending our desire to save the planet. More accurately, since the planet itself will, as some enjoy pointing out, be fine, it means ending our desire to save human global civilization and the current biosphere. We may succeed in saving those things, but according to current projections there is a very real possibility that we won’t. Epictetus would say that we should not desire what may be impossible, and certainly nothing which is out of the sphere of our control. Rather, what we should desire, is that we choose and act well. In the climate context this would mean seeking to understand what is happening and making the most rational choices we can as a result. Our individual choices might range from trying to change government policies to reduce the scale of the damage, to acting individually in ways that protect ecology, to moving to higher ground, among many other things. Primarily, though, it means directing our attention to building strong and serene characters to withstand the full impact of the coming crisis, something Epictetus claims it is actually in our power to do."

"There is a lot to learn from this one saying. Firstly, we should not think that a catastrophic climate change will not occur. Global extinction-level crises have happened before, at least five times, wiping out between 75-96% of life on Earth each time. And there is no reason to think that the conditions which prevailed the last time that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were this high – such as trees growing near the South Pole and sea levels twenty meters higher than now – will not happen again. On the purely human level, it’s also time to stop being shocked by our failure to adopt long-term thinking and act to halt the disaster now unfolding. Throughout history elites have acted to preserve their own interests while the world burned around them, and the common folk have been so fooled by propaganda that they have been unable to see what was happening until it was too late. Nazi Germany is only one of many examples of both tendencies; members of the intelligentsia around the world wrote of what was happening and would happen, but the high cost activities needed by the Allies to halt disaster were not undertaken until catastrophe demanded them and it was almost too late. Why should we think things would be any different now? The drastic reforms needed to halt climate change are difficult and expensive, and will take a long time to implement. During that time, climate change will advance and quite probably acquire irreversible, self-sustaining momentum."

"Our Stoic advisors, who intended their philosophy to speak eternally across the ages for any human exigency, say: do not waste time in being shocked at human irrationality; do not be naïve about how bad things can get; and begin training for a world of lack and hardship. Restrict your desire to perfecting your own understanding and good choices, and fulfill your role as an rational animal on the Earth regardless of whether global civilization can be saved or not."

So, in reality, preparing for ecological overshoot, NTHE, climate change, and energy and resource decline revolves around preparing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Stoic philosophy is one way to maintain tranquility in the face of what is happening. The other way to gain peace in today's world is to Live and Love Now.

More information on mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation can be obtained from this file.

I will end this article on a musical note, as this song encapsulates the spirit of this preparation.


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